Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata [Horsfield, 1821]

(Extremely rare vagrant)

  1. One, juvenile, 18th Nov. 2011 (N.R. Milbourne et al.), same 30th Nov. (R. Mielcarek et al.), and 12th-16th Dec. (N.R. Milbourne, R. & J. Staples et al.).

I had been birding at the lake all morning and was making my way back along the south side towards the Blagdon end to go home for lunch when I decided to stop at the west end of Green Lawn to check the gulls on the point referred to as Tiny’s Shallow, in front of the Fishing Lodge. There is a significant part of the point that cannot be viewed directly from the Lodge, so I thought it worth a look to see if I could see any gulls with darvic rings on from Green Lawn. I saw a small wader creeping around near the point that I was not immediately able to put a name to. Composing myself, I noticed the bright red cap and immediately thought of the Pectoral / Sharp-tailed Sandpiper pair, so dived into my car for a field guide while I was ringing Richard Mielcarek to find out if he was out birding at Chew. I told him I had a “goody” and that he ought to get straight over to Blagdon, which he did. I’d told him I thought I had one of the pair mentioned and by the time he arrived I felt pretty sure it was a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata as the ‘Collin’s Guide’ points out that the head pattern, especially behind the eye, is stronger than on the Pectoral and this, together with the general orange wash and minimal streaking on the breast seemed to fit nicely with the bird I was looking at. I pointed the bird out to Rich and asked for an opinion. He was broadly in agreement with me, though we discussed the possibility of a Pectoral Sandpiper at length with Ken Hall and Mike Jenkins who’d also arrived from Chew but they concurred that it wasn’t like any of those that had been at Chew this autumn – nor was it like any I’d seen previously, for that matter. Andy Davis arrived and, after some time watching, his reaction was that he couldn’t see why it wasn’t a Sharpie. Chris Craig, while noting the red cap, tossed the possibility of Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta into the discussion because we had all commented on the creeping manner and large feet and toes. I didn’t think it was one of those, having seen one in Goa while birding with Paul Holt previously, but let him have a look at the field guides I had in the car and he too dropped the suggestion in favour of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. I rang Keith Vinicombe at home, whom I’d already alerted to the possibility of a Sharpie, and said that we felt pretty sure that was what was in front of us. He jumped into his car and raced to the lake and after a quick look in someone’s scope pronounced “it’s a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper” just as we’d thought. The word was then put out to local birders and the pager services at around 1400 hrs.

Bibliography (sources of information)

  1. Milbourne, N.R. Juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - New to the Avon Area. Avon Bird Report, 2011: 149-150.
  2. Rose, Dr H.E. (ed.). Avon Bird Report, 2011. Avon Ornithological Group.

Updated 20 December, 2012